The closer we get to the Stanley Cup Final and off-season, the more trade rumours will pick up steam.
UFAs, RFAs, long lists of trade candidates and teams looking to make big changes are beginning to shape a busy off-season that has all the makings of being one of the more electric in memory.
The latest Rumour Roundup touches on Oliver Ekman-Larsson trade news, what else the Coyotes could do to blow it up, how the Golden Knights might react to a series loss against Montreal, and Matthew Tkachuk speculation.
WHAT IS OLIVER EKMAN-LARSSON WORTH IN TRADE?
As reported on Headlines last Saturday night, the Arizona Coyotes are working with Oliver Ekman-Larsson to get a trade done.
If that sounds familiar, it's because OEL was on the block last summer as well. However, his no-move clause meant he had complete control of the situation and would only allow a move to Boston or Vancouver, setting an Oct. 9 deadline to get a deal done or he'd stay for another year.
This year the situation has changed somewhat. Ekman-Larsson still holds the cards with his no-move clause, but appears willing to move to a wider variety of organizations.
"I think there's an understanding that the Coyotes want to move on and I think the player wants to move on, too," Elliotte Friedman told the FAN 960's Big Show. "One thing I hear about Ekman-Larsson is he needs a new start. It's just gotten a bit stale for him and the franchise and he needs somewhere else to go to rejuvenate himself.
"It's not a guarantee he gets traded, but I think he's willing to consider more places than he was last year."
The market for OEL's services, and just what the Coyotes can get in return, will be fascinating to see play out. There are a number of defencemen who are potentially available this summer, including Seth Jones, Alec Martinez, Vince Dunn, Dougie Hamilton, Mattias Ekholm, Rasmus Ristolainen... and on and on. Whether via trade or free agency, teams will have options on who they want to prioritize going after.
At the same time, Ekman-Larsson's performance has not been up to the standards of his reputation. The 0.73 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play he posted this season was the lowest of his career, and his 1.95 giveaways per 60 was the highest of his career, per Natural Stat Trick. He also had a career-low in 5-on-5 shots for percentage (44.77) and expected goals percentage (42.02), which are a lot of negatives for an $8.25 million cap hit that runs for another six seasons.
But, teams will always be pining for a player like Ekman-Larsson even with his 30th birthday coming up next month. How much of these struggles are due to things going stale in Arizona, or the team struggles around him? And which team would be willing to take on the inherent risk that comes with a player who has struggled recently and will be locked in for big money through his age 36 season?
The Boston Bruins remain a possibility. Cam Neely described the type of defenceman they felt they missed this season and so will pursue in the summer.
“The elusive left D we’ve been looking for that can chew up a lot of minutes,” Neely said. “Maybe play on the second pairing with Carlo. That’d be more of a shutdown or some puck movement [with] some offensive blue line acumen. As we saw, you can never have enough D and we never seem to have enough."
Ekman-Larsson doesn't have a payable bonus this season, but next year will have a $5.25 million bonus to be paid on top of his $5.25 million salary. It's a big financial commitment to make in tough times, along with the other possible red flags.
So while defencemen are always in demand, and it wasn't all that long ago OEL was grouped with some of the best in the game, what realistically will the Coyotes be able to get back in a trade for him now?
"Is it one of those things where is Arizona going to have to take money?" Friedman pondered. "Is Arizona going to have to take another contract?"
WHO ELSE COULD GO IN ARIZONA?
There is a growing list of teams with the potential to set off fireworks this off-season through trades or signings. The Coyotes are a part of that group for reasons beyond the Ekman-Larsson rumours.
The Coyotes were setting up to be sellers at the trade deadline, but by the time they got there they were fourth in the division and still had a shot at the playoffs. Now they're without a first-round pick, looking to save a few dollars, and settle in to a sort of rebuild. The degree to which they'll dip into that strategy might be determined by the trade market, what they can get from it and who they can move in it.
While OEL's value isn't clear and, similarly, rental player Phil Kessel won't bring a boatload of young assets back, the Coyotes could have other ways to get the sort of return they need.
"The interesting one is going to be (Darcy) Kuemper," Friedman said. "His name was all over the rumours last year. He had a tough year this year with injuries, but one of the things that happened was he played very well with Canada winning the gold medal at the worlds. Kuemper's going to be an interesting one because he can get them what they want, which are picks or prospects."
And though Conor Garland is a heck of a player at just 25 years old with two improving seasons in a row, he's also an RFA in need of a substantial raise and would be in demand across the league.
"I think Ekman-Larsson gets traded, I think Kessel gets traded and then we watch on Garland and Kuemper," Friedman said on 31 Thoughts: The Podcast.
IF VEGAS LOSES TO MONTREAL, WHAT KIND OF FALLOUT WILL THERE BE?
Vegas owner Bill Foley originally set a five-year timeline for his team to contend for the Stanley Cup before they played their inaugural season in 2017-18. Then they made it to the final in Year 1, and so expectations have been sky high ever since.
Whenever a big player is available, the Golden Knights are nearby. They traded for Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone. They signed Alex Pietrangelo last summer even though they were over the cap, and had to trade others away for pennies on the dollar to get cap compliant. When Steven Stamkos' name hit the rumour mill, the Golden Knights were one of the connected teams.
This aggression has led to some big pick ups for the Golden Knights over the years, and shaped one of the more well-built teams in the league. It's also making it harder for them to manage the roster. On more than one occasion this season the Golden Knights had to play with a short bench because they were capped out.
If they do lose to the Montreal Canadiens, it'll be a crushing disappointment. After getting past Colorado, thought to be one of their bigger challenges, facing the North Division's fourth seed seemed like a quick route back to the final. If they're eliminated by the Habs many questions will arise about the roster make up.
Is their centre depth an issue that needs to be addressed? Why has their scoring dried up in key post-season moments, and how can it be fixed?
And then, how do you make any necessary tweaks given Vegas has only $2.44 million in cap space next season and Alec Martinez set to test free agency? You know Foley will want the team to keep pushing and finding the best of the best. A loss to Montreal could force Vegas' front office to get creative in charting a path forward again.
"I do think you would see some change there," Sportsnet's Chris Johnston told the FAN 650's Halford and Brough. "They had trouble scoring when it mattered last year in the playoffs and went out and got Alex Pietrangelo...I just wonder if they try to make more of an impact in terms of bringing in a scorer or, as well as it's worked this year and as great as Fleury and Lehner have been as a tandem, maybe they think about moving one of those guys to free up some room."
The Golden Knights spend $12 million of their cap on two goalies, with Lehner signed at $5 million through the 2024-25 season and Fleury at $7 million through next season. The latter was available in trade last summer, but was coming off a tough year in which he lost the No. 1 job to Lehner, so there was no market for him. Will that change now that he's a Vezina finalist on a short-term contract?
For Vegas to make moves and upgrade its scoring, they'd first have to figure out which players are expandable and that would risk shaking up proven chemistry. But don't underestimate a group that has only been aggressive on the transaction front for four years and how they might react to another disappointing loss.
"They don't really have a lot of wiggle room, but I think there'd be enough impetus for change, or to try to improve, that we would see some moves there," Johnston said.
WHAT'S UP WITH MATTHEW TKACHUK?
Shane O'Brien set the rumour mill on fire earlier this week when he suggested on The Power Play with Steve Kouleas that Matthew Tkachuk may want out of Calgary to play for the St. Louis Blues and that a deal involving injured star Vladimir Tarasenko may make some sense.
One thing is for sure: the Flames are on that list of teams that could do just about anything this summer. Johnny Gaudreau's name is the one that headlines any trade talk around this team, though he did indicate at his year-end press avail that he'd be open to re-signing in Calgary. A decision on that will need to be made by, or soon after, July 28 this year when he'll be eligible to sign an extension.
Tkachuk signed a three-year bridge deal after his ELC expired and he'll head into the final year of that pact in 2021-22. After that, he'll be an RFA again, though just one year away from being UFA eligible. While Gaudreau will effectively be viewed as a rental himself because of his expiring contract in 2022, and Sean Monahan's trade value may be at its lowest point, Tkachuk may be the player Calgary could get the most for. Of course, he's also someone they may want as their captain one day, if there is a long-term fit together.
The Tkachuk speculation doesn't come out of nowhere. Earlier this season Jake Muzzin flipped a puck at Tkachuk at the end of a game and as the Calgary Flame was losing his temper, none of his teammates stepped up for him. Ever since, there has been speculation about locker room cohesiveness, where Tkachuk fits, and if he is the best choice as a future captain.
Under Darryl Sutter as head coach, Tkachuk's ice time came down from an average of 19:37 per game to 16:47 and Tkachuk himself opened room for speculation when he talked about that development at the end of the season.
"Just didn't play as much from the get-go so that was an adjustment," he said. "I had to get used to that. Definitely role changed a bit...I know what type of player I am and I was once so I definitely think there was an adjustment.
"I want to get back to the way I was because I know that can help this team."
It's no real secret that Tkachuk may want to play for the Blues -- a team his father starred for -- one day, but when asked his thoughts on the rumours around Tkachuk, Johnston didn't believe anything was imminent.
"I don't know that he's asked for a trade, in fact I don't think that's the case, but if this isn't an off-season where they move one or both of Monahan and Gaudreau maybe they have to go there," Johnston told Halford and Brough. "I do think there's fundamental shifts going to happen in that organization and Tkachuk signed a shorter term second contract, so there's a financial decision pending on him and I don't think it's unreasonable to connect all the dots and suggest perhaps he'll play somewhere else.
"I don't get the sense they're shopping him or he's demanded a trade, but almost nobody would be off the table at this point for that organization as they try to figure out a new way forward."